The Gates of Hell (Unity & Diversity- Part 2)

You know how when you build a campfire it’s important to keep all the logs grouped together? (I don’t actually know this from firsthand experience since I am not a camper… but it seems to be true based on what I’ve seen on TV…)  When campers or firemen or Smokey the Bear wants to extinguish a fire, they make sure to spread the fuel out, to separate the burning logs so that the fire goes out more quickly.

When God established the Church he grew it from a tiny spark that spread into a magnificent fire, transforming lives from every nation!  But from that very first day, the enemy has been trying to separate us and divide us so that our fire will be extinguished. God created us each different and unique but we have allowed our differences to become walls that divide us.

“On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18

Worshiping with unity and diversity does not come easy. But it’s definitely worth the effort for that little taste of heaven!  So, I thought I’d share some practical tips based on what we’ve learned about doing worship together based on our almost 4 years of experience. These are in no particular order and may or may not be true for every situation… but these principles have worked for us and may be helpful for you as well.

  1. Unified and diverse worship works best when based on personal relationships. In our situation, the pastors or leaders of each church represented meet together to plan the service. The actually spend about 10 minutes planning and the rest of the time sharing their own personal struggles and praying for one another. The leaders who have built personal relationships with one another tend to work better together and are more committed to making the services happen in spite of the difficulties.
  2. No egos allowed. Some people are natural speakers and others work better behind the scenes. My husband MC’s each worship service by introducing each church group and helping the program to flow smoothly. But even though he is the one on stage the most, he always includes the other pastors during the prayers or time of response. All the churches have equal time and importance. No one church should dominate or take over the service. The churches even take turns hosting the service each quarter so that no one has more work than they can handle or more credit than they need.
  3. Focus on unity. Emphasize the things that we all have in common: we all love God, we all want to serve Him, we all have been forgiven. That is why in our services there is no preaching. Yes, you heard that right. An entire church service with NO PREACHING! That is a rule my husband (a preacher) has stood firm on. We want to focus on what unites us, not what divides us. Since our events are made up of churches from a wide variety of denominations, preaching would highlight our differences. Some believe in laying hands & healing, some do not. Some believe in speaking in tongues, some do not. Some believe in eternal security, some do not. Some believe in only using the King James Bible, others use modern translations. Some believe in a verse by verse interpretation of Scripture and others use the Bible to support their topics. Some don’t mind getting political, others avoid it. Some prefer a calm and educational sermon presented in outline form while others prefer lots of sweatin’ & shoutin’. See what I mean? Those are the things that we disagree on. That’s one of the reasons we all attend different churches… But when we get together, we can all agree that God loves us and the world, that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that the Holy Spirit is the source of our strength. That is a good foundation for worship!
  4. Celebrate the differences. Don’t expect each church to worship the same way you do. Do your members raise their hands or clap during the music? Great! But don’t expect everyone to do that. Do you feel more comfortable with quiet songs played on piano? That’s fine! But don’t walk out when the band starts beating the drums. In my opinion, the most fun thing about these services is that I get to do things that I wouldn’t normally do at my own church. Honestly, if I were to sway and clap or shout during the singing on most Sundays, I would feel out of place. But surrounded by people who worship in many different ways, I can freely worship from my heart without fear of standing out in the crowd! I love hearing songs I’ve never heard before, worshiping along with instruments I don’t normally use, and lifting my voice in a language that is not familiar (at least I’m hoping to do so soon…there is a Hispanic worship band planning to join us at our next service! How fun!)
  5. Give a lot of GRACE. Jeff says all the time that maintaining a relationship is more important than being right. What he means by that is that we all have our own opinions of the right way to do things. But sometimes we have to put aside our idea of the “right way” in order to show grace to the people we love. When we love one another and worship together it doesn’t matter if someone is off-key or the music is too loud. If someone starts speaking in tongues or  gets “slain in the Spirit” my Baptist buddies get a little nervous, but we give grace because it is more important that we worship together in unity than argue about what we think is the right way to worship. In these services we emphasize that there is something for everyone…but that probably means that there’s also something that you won’t enjoy. But that shouldn’t stop us from worshiping together! “Love covers a multitude of offenses.” 1 Peter 4:8

I sure do wish I had some pictures to post here. But I’m usually so busy worshiping during these services that I don’t even think to take any! So here is a word-picture description of a typical worship celebration:

Every 5th Sunday approximately 200 people cram into a sanctuary that’s not used to holding more than 50 on any a normal Sunday (all of our participating churches are small: averaging 20-80 people each).There are normally 8-12 churches represented. Everyone mixes and mingles as best we can in such a tight space as Jeff puts the order of service together and the different groups give instructions to the sound guys. At 5:00pm Jeff gets everyone settled down and asks the host church pastor to open in prayer. Some churches occasionally arrive late, but we’re learning to be flexible. Jeff introduces the groups as they step up to give their presentations. Each church does 2-3 songs or skits. (See yesterday’s post for a sample of what you might see) Sometimes you sit and watch as God uses their talents for His glory, and other times you get to get up and participate in the singing & clapping. Either way, it’s worshipful and God-focused… and FUN!

Sometime during the evening, we will take up an offering. This should not surprise anyone, because I don’t care what your background is… you can’t have a church service without an offering. Amen? 🙂 Each service our offering goes towards a specific cause. We have given to support disaster relief in Haiti, provide food for one of the participating church’s food banks, to help local families whose homes were destroyed by floods, and to buy supplies to renovate the home of a young man in one of the youth groups who had been in a terrible accident and become paralyzed. The purpose of each offering was something close to the hearts of the pastors and that love trickled down into the hearts of their people. How great to not only worship but also to do ministry together with one another!

After two hours the service comes to a close. Some wish it would keep going and others wish it would stop sooner… that’s where grace comes in. But two hours is the best compromise we’ve been able to do to keep as many people continuing to participate as possible. We always end with a call to respond. Usually it’s a brief presentation of the Gospel with Scripture, a drama, or a personal testimony. Then all the pastors from all the churches move to the front so that if people need to make a spiritual decision, they have plenty of people they can talk to. This not only allows every pastor to minister in the way he knows best, and also presents a wall of unity for all to see. I love it!

According to my daughter, the best part is last. After the service we all gather in the gym or fellowship hall for food! Sometimes it’s a full meal but usually it’s just drinks and desserts. Everyone brings something to share and then sits around getting to know one another outside the service. The first time we did this, Jeff had to remind everyone to mix and mingle… everyone had drifted into what felt comfortable and were only sitting with their own church people! He joked and cajoled until he made everyone get up and sit by someone they didn’t know! It was the funniest thing…but also the best thing!

Unity and diversity does not come naturally. Leading these services is not easy. Each and every church that has been a part of this movement has come under spiritual attack. Some have stopped participating. Others are still hanging on in the midst of their own battles. But this is God’s plan: to show the world a little taste of heaven here on earth. This is the kind of CHURCH that the gates of hell will not prevail against!

PS… Our next Community Worship Celebration is scheduled for April 29. I will try to take some pictures. Please pray that God would continue to strengthen our churches as we worship together!

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A Little Taste of Heaven (Unity & Diversity- Part 1)

As a student at Columbia International University I got to experience a little taste of heaven every single day. At 10:40 am we would gather all the students and faculty together for chapel services. And every morning I stood to worship side by side with fellow believers from all over the world. Whether we were singing hymns, contemporary praise songs or listening to an international choir singing in other languages, we were all worshiping the same God, the same Savior, in the same Spirit. That’s what I imagine heaven is gonna be like…except that we’ll probably all be in tune… 🙂

But then came graduation and we all went our separate ways. We moved to churches where we were comfortable. We congregated with our friends and families. We settled into our routines of worshiping with people who were just like us in every way. Until one day we looked up and realized that our worship was so very one-dimensional. What happened? Why did we exchange diversity for monotony? And why doesn’t anyone seem to mind?

When Jeff & I lived in New Orleans we began to see the problem. During the week we would be surrounded by people of various races, cultures, and socio-economic status. But on Sunday when we attended church, we were surrounded with people who were all the same. One church was all white, one church was all black, one church was all middle-class suburbanites, one church was all college educated, one church was all working class, one church was all “old-money” southerners… Whether the separation was intentional or not, it was definitely obvious. Isn’t there somewhere that we can all worship together like we did back in college?

But we were not in charge of any of those churches back then. We didn’t have any say in how things were done. Then God moved us to Kentucky. He gave us a church and a vision of doing great things for Him. We longed for authentic worship, practical ministry and the co-existence of both unity and diversity. Do you know how hard it is to be intentional about diversity when your community is 90% white? Hmmm…

Then about three years ago God began to move in the hearts of various pastors and church leaders. The desire to gather their churches to worship together in a show of unity began to form. And suddenly we found ourselves leading the first ever worship gathering of Henderson Area Churches. At first the emphasis was on unity. Two of the churches choosing to participate had split from one body a mere three years before. Getting the people from both churches to sit in the same room together, much less worship, was a seemingly impossible task. But God wanted to show His great power by allowing pride to be broken, hearts softened and bitterness ended. What followed has been an amazing testimony to His grace!

Henderson Area Churches now meet every 5th Sunday for a joint worship celebration. Our celebrations include 8-12 churches from all over our county, and are some of the most fun times I’ve ever experienced in ministry! A typical celebration includes many forms of worship such as:

  • A white, middle-class praise team sings contemporary Christian music (usually Chris Tomlin) with a CD track
  • A blue-grass band complete with steel guitar and honky-tonk piano sing “I’ll Fly Away”
  • A black choir of pentecostal persuasion claps and sways as they sing a traditional call & response accompanied by piano and drums
  • A tattooed former biker couple blast out classic rock tunes with a spiritual twist
  • A pastor and his wife in traditional Baptist clothing (i.e. suit & dress) sing an old hymn as their son plays piano
  • A group of ladies from a small country church sing a Nicole C. Mullins song with hands lifted high
  • A group of young people from a well-to-do African America church perform a worship dance wearing white gloves and praise dresses
  • A youth group of mostly poor, white kids from difficult family backgrounds performs a dramatic interpretation of Christ rescuing them from the power of Satan
  • A group of teens and women stretch out of their Baptist comfort zones to dance to a Mandisa song, hoping they won’t get laughed at  or kicked out of their church…(That was my creative ministry team… 🙂 )

All of these expressions come together to form a toe-tapping, unpredictable symphony of heart-felt worship that once again gives us just a little taste of heaven.

By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

All of this does not come without a struggle. The enemy does not want us to be unified. He wants us to remain divided. It takes a lot of work to make worship like this possible… why do you think we only attempt it once a quarter? In the next post I will tell you some of the practical things we have learned in order to make intentionally worshiping in unity and diversity happen in our area.

What do you think about unity & diversity in worship? What has been your experience?

Polka-Dots & CAMELS

We have CAMELS in our church. At least once a month they take part in the worship service! I am in charge of  organizing, instructing, and cleaning up after our CAMELS. It’s one of my favorite jobs! And I’m so glad that I’m not talking about the actual “watch-out-they-spit” camels. (Check out this video for why I do not want a real camel in our church services! Camel video) Disaster!

We are the CAMELS- the Creative Arts Ministry Enhancement League of Spottsville!

When we decided to start a creative ministry team we wanted to think of a name that was as unique as our people. We are not just a dance team…though we like to dance. We are not just a drama team…though there is always drama. We are a team of creative people committed to doing ministry in new and creative ways. Our goals are both to reach the lost in our community by presenting God’s Truths in a way that holds people’s attention and to enhance our worship services by making people think or laugh about issues common to the church such as worship, teamwork, salvation, God… In order to accomplish these goals we write & present short sketches and full-length dramas, we arrange and choreograph “interps” to modern songs using sign language & dance moves, and we tap in to the talents of our congregation and the needs of our community to discover even more ways to minister creatively.

Our ministry is based on this key verse:

God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 1 Peter 4:10 

The cool thing about that verse is that the word used for “variety” is the Greek work “poikilos” which is where we get our word “polka-dot”! So when God creates people and gives out spiritual gifts everyone is different a bunch of polka-dots! I love that God is not vanilla. I love that He is not plain or predictable or creating mass-produced duplicates of His followers. We are all created with a purpose and given gifts that are different from one another. I enjoy finding people’s gifts and helping them to use them to worship and serve God in new and creative ways!

What are your gifts? How do you worship or serve God? Got any creative ideas for me? I love seeing others be creative whether it’s in worship or service or decorating or parenting or cooking. All of it can be an act of worship! Polka-dotted Praise offered up to a Creative and Personal God!

Check out my Creative Ministry page to see more about our CAMELS- including a link to a video and several free scripts! 🙂

Raise Your Hand If You’re Sure!

In the church I grew up in there was a lady named Judy. I loved to hear her sing, but she sorta freaked me out. You see… she often closed her eyes while she was singing… AND… she occasionally… {gasp}…RAISED HER HAND! Crazy, right?!? At our church no one ever raised their hands except to admit that they were a sinner in need of a Savior (and then only if every head was bowed and EVERY eye was closed).

I remember the first time I ever raised my hands in worship. It was a special day of prayer at my Bible college and I was alone in my dorm room. I had spent the morning in prayer and corporate worship with my fellow students and had just finished a really personal time of reflection on the greatness of God. I turned on some Jars of Clay music and as I sang something began to happen. My eyes began to close and my hands began to lift themselves to heaven with no thought to the stigma that comes with such actions! After that, I was hooked! My hand-raising experience began to invade my corporate worship during chapel as well as during church services! AND NO ONE KICKED ME OUT FOR BEING CRAZY!!!

At this time in my life & ministry, God has allowed me to be a part of our praise team that helps to lead worship at our church. When I first started singing on stage I was afraid to move or anything, for fear of offending someone. Then it dawned on me: God calls us to worship Him wholeheartedly! Sometimes worship means being still, but sometimes it means shouting, dancing, or (heaven-forbid) raising our hands! (Check out this script I wrote to bring attention to this variety in worship) So, why is there such a stigma or hesitation when it comes to expressing our worship in this way? (btw…if you have never experienced any of this then WOOHOO! Keep reading, though, these next thoughts might give you a new perspective) 🙂

So, I’ve been thinking: In regular (non-church) life, when do we raise our hands? And how does this translate into why we raise our hands in worship?

  1. As children we lift our hands up when we want someone to hold us. One of my daughters as a toddler would raise her hands to any adult around and say “Hold you?” Often, when I worship I find myself hurting or afraid and in need of Someone to hold me.
  2. Last week I was chosen to serve on a jury. Before the trial I had to raise my hand and promise to tell the truth. The whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God. Sometimes in worship I raise my hand as if to say “This is the truth! I know it. I believe it. I have experienced it. Believe me! This. Is. The. TRUTH!”
  3. In school we raise our hands when we know the answer. In worship I raise my hands because I know The Answer, too!  “Jesus is the answer for the world today…” Sorry. Early CCM flashback…:)
  4. Sometimes, though, we raise our hands just simply to get someone’s attention. I don’t want that to ever be the reason I raise my hands in worship…
There are lots of other thoughts I have floating around in my head about this, but I haven’t gotten them all figured out yet. If you have thoughts on this subject I would love to hear them! Do you lift your hands in worship? Why? or Why not? While you’re thinking about it, check out this video of Christ Tomlin’s song “I Lift My Hands.” We are singing this one on Sunday during our worship service, and I’m praying I won’t be the only one lifting my hands. 🙂

Creative Ministry: We Drink To Remember

I love taking the Lord’s Supper. I’ve loved it my whole life. In fact I cannot drink purple grape juice out of anything larger than a communion cup! 🙂 My favorite observance of the Lord’s supper was each of my daughters’ first time. Both of my girls made a profession of faith at an early age and were eager to partake of the Lord’s supper for the first time. I had them sit very close to me: partly to keep them from dropping the tray of juice…but mostly so that I could talk them through it without disturbing those around us. Throughout the entire ceremony I told them what each part meant, what their dad (the pastor) was talking about, and what they should be thinking or doing in response. It made the whole experience come alive for me once again as I explained the symbolism to them for the first time. One of my daughters asked me when it was all over: “Mommy, why do we do this?” I told her that we do this so that we will always remember what Jesus has done for us.

I wrote this script for my creative ministry team to do one Sunday when we were having the Lord’s Supper. I wanted to remind people why we do this and what it means. My friend is also very creative and she found pictures to go with each line of the script. We put the pictures and words on the screen at the front of the church building and had people standing around the audience reading the words aloud. Our pianist played softly in the background and the lights were low. The attitude was solemn but built to joyful worship as we remembered all that Christ has done for us!

We Drink To Remember

Some drink to forget...

We drink to remember.

Some drink to forget their pain...

We drink to remember His pain.

Some drink to forget senseless abuse...

We drink to remember that by His wounds we are healed.

Some drink to forget sins committed...

We drink to remember sins forgiven.

Some drink to forget their loneliness,

We drink to remember that He will never leave us alone.

Some drink forget past failures...

We drink to remember future promises!

Some drink to forget who they are...

We drink to remember WHOSE we are.

Some drink to feel powerful...

We drink to sense His power at work within us!

Some drink to become the life of the party

We drink to celebrate our abundant life in Christ!

Some drink the cup of sorrow

We drink the cup of rejoicing!

Some drink to forget

We drink to remember

To remember His pain

And our healing

To remember that our sins are forgiven

That we are never alone

We are His

His power is at work within us!

We now have abundant life!

Therefore we rejoice!

And drink to remember!

Feel free to use these ideas or materials for your own ministries. However, please don’t copy and use as your own. All materials here are original in content and the property of Stephanie Shouse and the Spottsville CAMELS. Please give credit accordingly.

Click here to download a document with the words only of this presentation: We Drink To Remember (Word Doc)

Click here to download a power point presentation with the words & pictures: We drink to remember ppt (PowerPoint) *Note: some pics are different due to formatting issues.